How to Use Value Stream Mapping for Continuous Improvement

How to Use Value Stream Mapping for Continuous Improvement

“Use it (value stream mapping) properly and completely and it will provide a direct path to process optimization and an operation that is assured long-term survival.” Keith Mobley, Principal, Life Cycle Engineering

In a blog titled, Value Stream Mapping, by Lean Manufacturing Tools, a company providing Lean training, it explains that value stream mapping is a “is a lean manufacturing tool that seeks to map your process from supplier to customer, highlighting the flows of product and information and identifying delays and non-value adding processes.” When used correctly, value stream mapping can quickly lead to substantial improvements.

What is a Value Stream Map?

William C. Thorsen, Staff Project Planner for the Worldwide Facilities Group of General Motors Corporation, explains that “value stream mapping is the simple process of directly observing the flow of information, and material, as they occur and summarizing them visually.” The tool employs standard symbols to represent both items and processes while it analyzes how a process flows from a systems perspective and also documents the performance of that process. It includes a look at both value added and non-value added steps.

What Does a Value Stream Map Do?

Keith Mobley is a Principal at Life Cycle Engineering. In an article for, he writes that value stream mapping:

  • Provides a graphic so you can analyze the flow of materials and information
  • Is a tool to see processes and relationships including: manufacturing, production, scheduling and materials
  • Helps you identify problems, bottlenecks, and waste
  • Is a visual aid to use when developing solutions and presenting ideas to stakeholders
  • Provides a dashboard to measure continuous improvement

Key Elements of a Value Stream Map

Value stream maps provide a visual that highlights each step occurring, between the time an order gets submitted by a customer, through procurement and production to final delivery. One of the goals of using this tool is to highlight where problems are happening so a corrective action can be put in place as soon as possible. According to Lean Process and Six Sigma Manufacturing, a website written by a certified 6 Sigma and Lean Manufacturing black belt, there are 4 key elements of a value stream map:

1. Customer

Customer demands are the top priority. Putting customers first on the value stream map is necessary to calculate takt time and cycle time.

2. Supplier

After customers, suppliers are your next consideration. Add information such as what type of supplier and where they are located to your value stream map.

3. Product Flow

In the product flow area of your value stream map include how materials will move from the supplier all the way to a finished good sold to a customer. Include every part of your production process with details regarding cycle time, changeover time, uptime, shifts, personnel and available time.

4. Information Flow

In this section of a value stream map, consider how you receive information from your customer such as their needs, time constraints and price. Also, think about how you send and receive information such as schedules to your suppliers. Finally, consider your internal communication with production.

As you implement value stream mapping into your work, be sure to include all stakeholders in the planning. It is necessary to develop cross-functional teams to have the correct input. Using this process will enable you to visualize processes, quickly identify waste and find solutions to keep your processes moving.

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